Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"A good point guard, here's what she does."

As Vanity Fair notes, "If you watched Sarah Palin’s resignation speech, you know one thing: her high-priced speechwriters moved back to the Beltway long ago."

Harsh, but true. So, out of some mixture of professional courtesy, literary indignation, and morbid curiosity, VF's literary editor, with an assist from the copy and research departments, set out to make the thing presentable. (Click to enlarge.)

I should emphasize: No one ordered them to go on this mission; they all volunteered. Editors award their highest honors for that.

The finished product is obviously superior, although I think they occasionally got a little carried away. They fixed a few idiomatic or regional constructions that probably didn't need fixing and are, arguably, even part of the "down-home" authenticity that many originally found attractive, or at least intriguing, about Palin. I wouldn't go so far as to dignify her tin ear for modifiers and auxiliary verbs by equating it with Lincoln's signature Old Testament cadences, or Kennedy's love of parallelism and antithesis, but they do go a long way toward making Sarah the easily recognized brand she is. (Ask Tina Fey.)

Of course, that's a point about which editors can disagree in good faith. And in any case I sympathize with her ghost editors; when the main part of a job involves swinging a 7-pound sledge hammer, it can take a few moments for muscle memory to catch up once it's time to use a scalpel for the fine work.

But that small reservation is related to a larger, more consequential one: By tightening up the self-indulgent rambling, connecting the non sequiturs, healing the afflicted grammar and syntax, fixing the ambiguities, and correcting errors of fact, VF's team hasn't merely lost much of Palin's voice. They've produced a document in which little or no trace of the original animating consciousness behind the speech remains. I suppose one could argue that, in worst-case scenarios, that is the most important function of the speech writer/editor. The persona who might have given that speech, as edited, could have had a much better chance in national politics.

(Hat tip to Marianne.)

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